Why we'd better listen to Ayatollah Sistani.

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.
Feb. 4 2004 1:20 PM

Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani

Why we'd better listen to Iraq's influential cleric.

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Sistani is a deeply religious man who is also a survivor. Living in Najaf, a holy city and burial place haunted by Shiite passion for martyrdom, he has emerged as a leader through quiet rationalism. When his fatwa summoned thousands into the streets of Baghdad, Sistani crossed the line from scholar to activist. In many ways, we're all lucky that he is the voice of Iraq's Shiites, but by playing politics, he is entering a dangerous arena. A powerful Shiite cleric is calling for a peaceful, internationally moderated democracy in Iraq. Just across the border, Iran's theocracy is wrestling with the same issues, and from Egypt to Malaysia leaders struggle to integrate Islam and democracy. Behind the rhetoric of regime change George Bush added the promise that America would make that integration happen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sistani has dared him to do it.

Ed Finn is the director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English at Arizona State University.

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